America, I can assure you, your international borders are secure against the illiterate. Or, at least against travelers who know nothing of Victorian literature.
Explain? Yes, I will explain. That's why I'm here.
I was visiting family south of the border, in Rosarito, Mexico, one Saturday evening. (Mexican? I did not know he was Mexican, you say to yourself. Clearly you’ve never seen my sombrero or my agile janitorial skills). As most family gatherings are, it was thrilling. Cake was served, leis were provided. Excuse me for forgoing the specific details of those proceedings, for it is not my focus here.
Jump to midnight or so, when I was in a car with my mother and brother, waiting at the border crossing for quite a while. We reached the crossing, where you are briefly questioned by a police-like agent. Our agent was a nice gentleman, wholly dedicated to his job and his moustache. Have you ever watched a comedy show called Reno 911? No matter. I love that show.
So the agent asked for our passports, which we didn't have because were just popping into Meh-hee-ko for a day. Whatever. We gave him our IDs.
He proceeded to ask me where I was born. "San Diegoooo," I bragged, for some reason. And he asked my brother who the first president was. Were we bringing anything back with us?, he asked. Yes, my mother told him. We had some leftover food from the party in the trunk. So we popped the trunk. I don't know what he did back there, but I assume he tested our chicken leg for avian flu and terrorism. And he apparently saw the Stanford sticker on the rear windshield, meticulous inspector that he was.
"Which one of you goes to Stanford?"
"What's your major?"
I wasn't sure if this was some kind of test to verify my authentic American flavor, or if it was just idle chitchat. "English."
"Who's your favorite author?"
Jesus. He wore a very stern face. He seemed to think that studying at Stanford was a guise to sneak fried chicken into his beautiful country. I wasn't sure who to say. I said Charles Dickens because at the time, I was versed in Dickens like a muthafucka. As they say.
"What do you think of Bleak House?"
Well. I still didn't understand his goal with these questions, but I wasn't annoyed. "It's pretty good." I hesitated when I answered, because I wanted to explain that actually, it's good and complex and all that, but when you study Dickens for ten weeks, his books become methodic. Bleak House is like a second draft of Oliver Twist. But don't quote me on that. Anyway, he wasn't done with his literary quiz.
"What about Great Expectations?"
He was smug with that question, as if it would stump me. Great whatspectations? Come on. Many more people read Great Expectations than Bleak House. His questions were declining in difficulty.
"It's also very good. But I think I prefer Bleak House." He was satisfied with that.
"Next time, bring your passports."
"Is that the law?" my mother asked.
"There's a war going on. That CHANGES EVERYTHING."
Oki dokie smokey. That's means it's not the law. Which war, anyway? On terror? On drugs? On family values? On Christmas? Not sure.
Anyway, you don't need to carry your passport if you know your Dickens.